TheBishop of Maitland-Newcastle, the Most Reverend Michael Malone, hasadmitted that Christmas collection money was diverted to lawyers todefend a priest, Father James Patrick Fletcher, of theMaitland-Newcastle diocese in New South Wales, in a child-abuse courtcase. In addition, the priest's lawyers were paid thousands of dollarsfrom other church sources. Father Fletcher pleaded not guilty in 2004to multiple counts of anal and oral sexual penetration of an altar boy,Desmond (not his real name). The offences began in 1990 when Desmondwas thirteen. On 6 December 2004 a jury found Fletcher guilty on allcharges.
Legal experts said that Fletcher's legal costs for the eleven day trialexceeded $200,000. The church's defence team included an expensiveQueen's Counsel, who had previously represented Lindy Chamberlain, plusa second barrister and a solicitor.
Afterthe guilty verdict, the media questioned Bishop Malone about how thedefence team was financed. Malone said that Fletcher "availed" himselfof an "offered loan facility" to help fund his defence. It is not knownhow the "loan" was supposed to be "repaid", especially seeing thatFletcher was about to be jailed for the crimes. It is also not knownwhy Bishop Malone called this payment a "loan". BishopMalone also admitted he was aware that a priest from one parish haddonated part of the parish's Christmas collection to help payFletcher's lawyers. The parishioners of this generous priest did notknow that their Christmas donations were to be used to help a fellowpriest evade child-sex charges.
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